Last week, at the school where I work, I was approached by a 6th grade teacher to review the work by several of his African American students. It was an open letter to president Obama on the bleak fate of African American youth today. The level of awareness these youth display towards their reality is all too clear in this letter. As soon as I finished reading, I knew immediately this needed to be shared.
I am proud to live in a community that does its best to ensure that all of its youth–especially the black and brown–are given an equal chance to success. Most people I interact with here–many who are white–would agree that racism is still manifesting itself in society today, and that there is a certain civil-responsibility we all have towards eradicating racism. But that seems to be where the conversation usually ends.
What makes this letter so raw is that these youth are acknowledging how real and unrelenting the forces of racism are in the world that they are growing up in. They make the connections that no matter how many resources are given to them–even when living in a community that does its best to not fail youth that look like them–that the rest of society just isn’t there yet. The rest of society will see their skin color first, and however made up racial differences are, peoples’ prejudices can have real outcomes in these boys lives–as it has in the lives of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and Mike Brown.
In their own words: “this is a state of emergency.”
But however discouraging the statistics these kids raise in this letter are, seeing these words being penned by a group of 11 to 12-year-olds raises hope within me, and I hope it will do the same for you.
So here it is, with the permission of their parents, and no added ideas from me or any other adults, their words alone:
Dear President Obama,
Our names are Phoenix, Zayd, Bryson and Keidy, we are four African American boys who live in Amherst, Massachusetts. We are in 6th grade, and we are researching the Black Lives Matter Movement. We want law enforcement officials to treat everyone equally. As you are already aware, there have been several concerning incidents of African American boys and girls, who are unarmed and have not been breaking any laws, being murdered. This is a state of emergency because if police keep on killing black lives for no reason and there is no one doing anything about it, nothing is going to change.
Law enforcement officials and the justice system treat African American males differently. For instance data from americanprogress.org shows the difference in treatment between white and black men:
“While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned. The incarceration rates disproportionately impact men of color: 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.”
Clearly, African Americans are treated differently by the criminal justice system.
Black Lives Matter movement started because of the death of Trayvon Martin. The movement gained momentum with the murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. There were reasons those people were killed but it wasn’t worth being killed over.
Police shouldn’t be killing unarmed African Americans, but some people take this movement in the wrong way by thinking that they are just saying that only black lives matter but no, we are saying that black lives matter too, which means all lives matter. Whites are treated like they matter by the police. For instance, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. This shows that blacks are treated unfairly. This movement advocates for our rights.
President Obama, as a fellow African American, you clearly understand why this is important to every American. We would like to conference with you about solutions to this perplexing problem.
We look forward to your reply and discussing this with you in person.
Zayd,Phoenix, Keidy, Bryson